A New Year’s message from BFAWU President Ian Hodson

As 2014 nears its end, we can take heart in the fact that God willing, we may only have to endure another five months or so of this nasty, vindictive and rotten government.

During his time in office, the Prime Minister, David Cameron has dusted off all the old World War quotes and rolled out the barrel of ‘digging in for victory’ rhetoric. He even went as far to say that the UK “is in the economic equivalent of war today” – and therefore, the spirit of World War II must be recreated in Whitehall. If he’s talking about people on the front line fighting for their lives and others having to ration as a result of the greedy little Hitlers in the financial sector, then he’s quite right. However, the problem is that Cameron is no Winston Churchill and the people who caused the crisis of capitalism that has led to the industrial scale suffering of others, are the very people he seeks to protect and defend at all costs. In the Prime Minister’s ‘big society’ Britain, the field of human suffering is a graveyard of Sure Start Centres, Libraries and Walk-in-Centres, with so much stolen from the many for the benefit of the few.
Over the last five years, David Cameron’s unelected coalition government has unleashed a relentless blitz on the sick, the disabled, the young, the old and the unemployed in this country. We must make him and his party pay the price for this in May 2015. We need to be absolutely clear about this; any political party that believes in forcing people with cancer, extreme disabilities and illnesses to work or lose their benefits has no place in any civilised society. Any political party that believes in unpaid labour and disabled people being paid less than everybody else should be totally unelectable. Finally, any political party that believes food banks are a good thing in one of the world’s strongest economies should face the wrath of the people and political oblivion.
It’s ironic that David Cameron should use the language of wartime Prime Ministers, because let there be no doubt about it; he has waged a five-year war on the working classes, and a five-year love-in with those at the top of the pay scale. I make no apology for demanding a society that benefits everybody, rather than just a handful of the ultra-wealthy and I certainly make no apology for demanding higher pay for workers in our industry. Where there is a clear ability to pay, especially in the case of multi-national, hugely profitable fast-food organisations, they should do so, and if a moral obligation isn’t enough for them to pay people a wage they can live on, they should be forced. The taxpayer should not be used to top up poverty wages, subsidise cheap labour and prop up massive companies, whilst safeguarding the generous remuneration packages of CEOs. Our taxes should be used to maintain the public services we rely on and to provide a safety net for those who fall on hard times through no fault of their own. End of story.

I strongly believe that people working in the food industry, especially our members deserve the best; and we have a duty to demand it. That is why we’ve campaigned so hard against the use of zero hours contracts and pushed for a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour. Zero hours contracts allow governments to fudge unemployment figures. The government makes out that it has all but eradicated unemployment. It hasn’t. Their employment figures include those on part-time and zero hours contracts. They also include people on ‘workfare’. The government also likes to make out that it has created a million new jobs. It hasn’t. Those jobs were former public sector ones that have been merely transferred to the private sector. The reality is that employment levels pretty much resemble those of the 1980s. The difference is that the spin-meister general, Cameron and his cohorts have been allowed to manipulate statistics by a mainly spineless, sycophantic and equally vindictive mainstream media.
It was fantastic to see the TUC unanimously back our Union’s motion for a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour for all workers at this year’s Congress. I’m fully aware of how controversial and radical a move this is, given the wage levels at some our own sites nationwide, but we have to at least aspire to something better. Food workers in the United States have made similar demands, and the signs are that the tide could well turn in their favour, as a number of states have already signed up to a credible living wage of around $15 an hour. If we can achieve something similar here in the UK, then it would be a huge boost to those we represent and could help us to increase and strengthen our membership along with our bargaining position, whilst raising the profile of the BFAWU in the process. A minimum wage of £10 an hour would help to reduce the cost of welfare, give people more disposable income and better spending power. This would subsequently provide our economy with a major, much needed shot in the arm, with the majority of our taxes being put to better use. If that’s not something to aspire to, then I don’t know what is, so let’s go a step further by making the politicians hear our growing collective demands for a better deal. Remember; they depend on our vote. Let’s make them work for it.

Ian Hodson
National President
Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union
Stanborough House
Great North Rd.
Welwyn Garden City
Twitter: @ianbfawu